Thursday, January 24, 2019

Domestic Notes on Table Etiquette

 An antique, King’s pattern, corn stripper or kernel scraper. Victorians loved green corn, and by the late 1800’s and early 1900’s had produced numerous patented items, like the one above, for making the eating of green corn from the cob more graceful.

A writer in Harper's Bazaar takes up her pen to put us all to rights on our behavior at the table. We give a part of her lecture as follows: A cream-cake, and anything of similar nature, should be eaten with knife and fork, never bitten. Asparagus may be taken from the finger and thumb. Peas and beans, we all know, require the fork only. Potatoes, if mashed, should be mashed with the fork. Green corn should be eaten from the cob, but it must be held with a single hand. Celery, cresses, radishes, and all that sort of thing, are, of course, to be eaten from the fingers; the salt should be laid upon one's plate, not upon the cloth. 

Fish is to be eaten with the fork, without the assistance of the knife; a bit of bread in the left hand sometimes helps one to master a refractory morsel. Berries, of course, are to be eaten with a spoon. It is not proper to drink with a spoon in the cup; nor should one, by the way, ever quite drain the cup or glass. Spoons are sometimes used with puddings, but forks are the better style. A spoon should never be turned over in the mouth. 

Ladies have frequently an affected way of holding the knife half way down its length, as if it were too big for their little hands, but this is as awkward a way as it is weak. The knife should be grasped freely by the handle only, the forefinger being the only one to touch the blade, and that only along the back of the blade at its root, and no further down. In sending one's plate to be helped a second time, one should retain one's knife and fork, for the convenience of waiter and carver. At the conclusion of a course, where they have been used, knife and fork should be laid side by side on the plate, never crossed; the old custom of crossing them was in obedience to an ancient religious formula. 

The servant should offer everything at the left of the guest, that the guest may be at liberty to use the right hand. If one has been given a napkin-ring, it is necessary to fold one's napkin and use the ring; otherwise the napkin should be left unfolded. One's teeth are not to be picked at the table; but if it is impossible to hinder it, it should be done behind the napkin. One may pick a bone at the table, but, as with corn, only one hand is allowed to touch it; yet one can usually get enough from it with knife and fork, which is certainly the more elegant way of doing; to take her teeth to it gives a lady the look of caring a little too much for the pleasures of the table; one is, however, on no account to suck one's fingers after it. 

Wherever there is any doubt as to the beat way to do a thing, it is wise to follow that which is the most rational, and that will almost invariably be found to be the proper etiquette. There is a reason for everything in polite usage; thus the reason why one does not blow a thing to cool it, is not only that it is an inelegant and vulgar action intrinsically, but because it may be offensive to others– cannot help being so indeed; and it, moreover, implies haste, which, whether resulting from greediness or from a desire to get away, is equally rude and objectionable. Everything else may be as easily traced to its origin in the fit and becoming. 

If to conclude, one seats one’s self properly at the table, and takes reason into account, one will do tolerably well. One must not pull one's chair too closely to the table, for the natural result of that is the inability to use one's knife and fork without inconveniencing one's neighbors; the elbows are to be held well in and close to one's side, which cannot be done if the chair is too near the board. One must not lie or lean along the table, nor rest one's arms upon it. – Pacific Rural Press, 1879


Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia

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